Thursday, September 20, 2012

Getting Messy at School

Do you remember the first time you had to cook an entire meal?  Following recipes, getting timing right for each part to be ready at the same time, and trying to present it in an appetizing way?

I know from experience that doing this, even now, especially for a large holiday meal, has my kitchen ending up somewhat of a disaster zone.  Like my mother (who is an amazing cook) I have every cabinet open and am probably covered in flour or splatter from the stove.  With experience, of course, this has become much easier and I am much better at cleaning up as I go. 

Now imagine cooking that big meal for the first time and being told not to make a mess and to not get dirty.  How would that feel?  Can you imagine the added pressure of trying something new and learning to explore the nuisances of a recipe without spilling a little flour or having a cracked egg drip on the counter? I know I would feel a lot of pressure and would not enjoy myself very much.  To me a big part of cooking is tasting and trying new things, making mistakes and learning from them.  

So why am I talking about cooking here?  This does relate to the classroom.  I quoted my favorite saying in my last post about the babyand the puddle, "a dirty kid is a happy kid!"  But why is that?  

A child who is free to explore her surroundings with wild abandon is joyful.  Children put their whole selves in an activity if they are allowed to do so.  Young children paint with various brushes, yes, but they use their whole arm and their hands as part of the process.  Often the brushes are cast aside in order to feel the paint.  

Children that can explore materials in this way will make amazing discoveries of how the material changes and responds to various uses.  This free exploration allows them to foster their creativity and make sense of the material.  After this open ended discovery children are more receptive to using it in certain ways when the time comes, such as using paint or clay or glue for a project as they get older.  

One of our main goals for young children is to expose them to as many different materials as we can and to give them the time to freely explore them. 

Now go back to that cooking example and imagine a child trying to explore foam paint right after being told that she cannot get dirty.  That child will feel quite a bit of pressure and anxiety.  She might stick a finger in the paint or a stick, but she will not smear is all around her paper and test how many little embellishments she can get to stick in the paint, or how fluffy she can keep it on the paper, or how it smoothes out the more she presses on it and stays fluffier with a gentle touch.  
She will not be the child wiggling in her seat with pure joy or the one so excited that she needs to stand up and use her whole upper body as she paints.  But, she will be clean.

The joyful child will be dirty.  She will have paint on her sleeves or her shoulders (like me today) or in her hair (like me yesterday).


Back a few years ago-(ok, several years ago) my children came to our little red school house, and when I picked them up covered in paint or mud or glue, I knew they were fully engaged in exploring and were going to have amazing discoveries to share with me.  

I clung to that excitement when late at night; I'd be tossing these clothes in the laundry with a bunch of stain fighters and hoping they'd get clean.  But if not, no worries.  I knew within moments of being back in school, those stains would be recovered by the evidence of the new days' exploration. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Puddle and the Power of Play

Does the philosophy of learning through play stay with children as they get older?

I was proud to be able to have evidence of this the other night when my oldest daughter shared her babysitting experience with me.  She went to watch a young toddler for the early evening.  It wasn't near bedtime, so she decided to take him outside to "play".

At first she looked in their garage for toys, but not finding any she remembered how much fun a simple walk can be at this age, especially since this is what he was working so hard to master.

It did not take him too long to discover a puddle.  Being an alumi of our creative, messy play nursery school and the daughter of a play advocate, she did not steer him away.  Instead she marveled in his delight and enjoyed observing how he would walk in the puddle and then in the grass testing how the swishing water felt inside his shoes.  He would smile up at her and then repeat the process heading back to the puddle to retest his theory of if his shoes would swish the same way.  This 16 month old was involved in intense science inquiry while playing in the puddle.

And as I always say....
A dirty kid is a happy kid!

He sure was happy!  And I was very proud of my playful teenager for recognizing the value and importance of this puddle.

Easy Classroom Curtains

Those of you that follow this blog know that I advocate the process much more than the product when it comes to art experiences.  And you also know that I love to use and reuse materials in different ways.  So here is a post that makes both of these things possible….

We hung up store purchased drop cloths on our large outdoor easel.

They have a paper feel in the front and a plastic back to make them more absorbent as the name states. 

We filled spray bottles with watered down liquid water color paint (food coloring would work as well) and let the children spray away!  They loved it so much we went through three cloths. 


Of course, they also loved finding other things to spray such as the deliciousness that they were concocting in our outdoor mud kitchen. 

So this was the process part….cause and effect, hand exercise, color mixing and more.
But what to do with the product that remains?

I decided to use it to make curtains for our classroom.  I usually cut up some art work made by each class from our large outdoor easel for curtains as can be seen from the post on“toilet brush painting” from last year.  I cut them up and tape them.  They do start to fall down about mid year, so this year I got smart and bought tension curtain rods.

  I then cut up the drop cloths, folded over the top edge and sewed (ok, I used a stapler) across the top. 

 I slipped the tension rod inside the gap and they were done!  Once up, I decided to trim the bottoms.  The material of the drop cloth hung scrunched up so well making them hang so nicely.  They actually look like cloth curtains. 

And I’m not done…..
I cut up the scraps into various shapes and sizes to use in our block center next week as embellishments for our buildings.

And the final piece will be used outside…as a tunnel or a….. well, we will have to see how these incredible young minds use their “product”.  

So head to your hardware store and give it a go.  Have fun playing with spray bottles and you may end up with curtains.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Perfect Book for the Beginning

I like to start off the year reading Mary Wore Her Red Dress by Merle Peek as it easily encourages children to sing along on their very first day in class.  It also lends itself well to adapting it to sing it the children’s names and their own clothing items.  This way the children are learning each other’s names and getting comfortable in our group setting.  After reading it, rereading it and then recreating it with our own information, we then make it in to our first class book.  I take a photo of each child highlighting the item of clothing chosen and put the words on each page. 

 This year I printed the photos in black and white and just colored in the item being featured.  

This quickly becomes a sought after independent reading book often inspiring good friends to cuddle up and read it together. The predictable text and color coded words and names repeated provide just the right amount of scaffolding as young children are becoming readers.  They feel successful which leads to the act of reading being associated with pleasure.   It isn’t unusual for 7-8 children to end up reading it together joyfully singing and pointing out their own special page. 

Have some fun playing with it in your class!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Easy Science Center

I had been looking at great photos of science centers in classrooms and wanted to start off the year with some interesting things in mine.  Thinking of how to gather a selection of various objects with everything else I was trying to set up in my room got me thinking.  I also wanted a connection to the children coming in for their first day to ease nervousness and give them a sense of ownership of their classroom.  I combined these two needs in to one, and ended up with a fantastic science center.

I wrote a note to each family asking the children to bring in an object from nature for our science center on their first day.  This way when the children arrived, they immediately had something concrete to show me and we had a conversation piece.  The parents and children enjoyed finding and talking about what to bring in. 

Some children brought something found on a summer vacation; others went in to backyards or on walks to find something, while others chose an object from a treasured collection.



We received shells, rocks, flowers, feathers, tree bark, insects, a bird house and more.  The children have been enjoying looking at them with magnifying glasses.  It has been a nice connection point for the children as well as they are the expert on their particular piece and can “teach” the others about it.   We plan on sharing them this week now that we have settled into our routine a bit.  

I'd love to hear more about the science discovery areas that you have set up in your classrooms.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The First Three Days

The little red school house was open for the important business of playing this week.  In my class half the class came on Monday and half on Tuesday (we lovingly call this Groundhog Day like to movie as we repeat everything we did on Monday, including the snack).  Then today, the entire class came together.
What did we do our first few days together…

we climbed..

we dug...

we cooked in our outdoor kitchen...

we played with "loose parts"

we rode bikes...
we counted and recorded our snack

we graphed...

we read...

we made playdough...LOTS of playdough and scented ;-)...

we read some more...

we explored our new schedule....

we painted...

we wrote our names...

we hammered....
and hammered....

                                                           and hammered some more...

we pretended....

we built with blocks...
we used real tools...

and made new friends.  

And that was only the first three days!!